“Did a Farmer Build This Barn?”

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Since we inspect dozens of barns every year, and because we’ve got lots of barns for sale, we often receive this question. In the 18th century, who, exactly, was it that was crafting these beautiful structures that required such skill and attention to geometry, math, fine woodworking skills, and practicality?1790-barn-with-5-sided-ridge-beam

At times, we have heard the question asked in a mildly derisive manner, as if it was built by farmers rather than carpenters. At other times, we are asked in a tone of reverence for the broad spectrum of skills required and the appreciation of raw materials, motivation, communal commitment, and just plain hard work involved. It is in the latter spectrum that we solidly fall in our assessment of our New England structures and their creators from so long ago.

Our Latest Vermont Timber Frame Project

This week we spent two intense days disassembling a beautiful addition on a house in Tunbridge and Chelsea, Vermont. Two towns, you may be asking? Yes indeed-the town line ran right through the center of the property, and the house is in Tunbridge, while the addition was in Chelsea. While mid-stream on the addition dis-assembly, a town truck from Tunbridge came by, and the driver stopped. Leaning far out the window of the dump truck, he called to us, “What, moving out of Chelsea, eh?”

The joke was followed by much guffawing and laughter. I am not sure why that dump truck had been driven to the literal dead end of the road, but I am suspicious it may have been for the purpose of telling that joke- and I love it! News of renovations and changes travel fast in our small Vermont towns.

timber frame addition in the snow green mountain timber frames

The first time I looked at the addition, the snow banks were deep.

Early gunstock timber frame green mountain timber frames

What a difference a couple of months can make in Vermont! The house is a beautiful 1820s gunstock frame.

Let’s get back to the theme of “farmer built.” As someone raised on a Vermont dairy farm, and accustomed to the great joys and hardships of farming, I can not state strongly enough my appreciation for the barns and their builders of yesteryear. We at Green Mountain Timber Frames are so fortunate to get the insider’s view of many local barns, and we have been able to trace the progression of a master timber framer through our valleys by observing unique “signature” qualities of frames.

Recently, we noted a very unique rafter birds mouth detail for example that we have seen in only two local structures- which “happened” to be only 20 miles apart. Was this a case of farmers sharing ideas and techniques with their neighbors, or is it because a master builder traveled around the area coaching and aiding as farm families built their barns?

Hand hewn rafters green mountain timber frames

The rafters are beautiful petite spruce with a half-lap joint at the peak.

In the case of this structure in Chelsea/Tunbridge, we found an extra special clue that the addition was indeed farmer built. They used pieces from a split rail fence as collar ties to support the rafters!

split rail collar tie green mountain timber frames

I would love to have heard the conversation where they decided to grab some rails from the nearest fence! With the property being high on a mountain, it would have been a long trip to a saw mill, and the split fencing was right there. “Keep the job moving!” we builders like to say.

collar tie and hand made nails green mountain timber frames

Note the beautiful hand-made nails that hold the collar tie in place. The family for whom the country road is named were blacksmiths as well as farmers, and I am certain they made these nails themselves.

The posts of the addition had been devastated by carpenter ants, and the foundation was crumbling. Because of this, we will not be restoring the frame. Rather, we will use the hemlock roof boards and the beautiful rafters on the future restoration of another building.

vintage hemlock roof boards green mountain timber frames

The roof boards have beautiful color that only time can create.

We are grateful to the property owner for his desire to see the materials recycled. Just like the farmer who originally put this structure together, we want to recycle all that we can. In fact, we left those vintage pieces of split rail fence behind with the property owner, and I expect they may be put right back into the fence that is only thirty yards from the house to “live another day” back where they came from.

Are you looking for historic barns for sale? Want a new-old barn home?
We’d love to help! 

Luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com or (802) 774-8972

 

The 1840s Historic Home: Saving Precious Timbers

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We recently finished working on a small project dismantling part of an 1840s home. The residents were tearing down a section of their historic home to make room for a new addition.
historic home renovation_Green Mountain Timber Frames

The new addition honors the style of the original, and retains the stone foundation

Honoring the value of the vintage wood, they asked Green Mountain Timber Frames to help them salvage parts of the structure.
The answer? Of course!
While the frame itself was beyond repair, with careful disassembly of the timbers, we were able to save the vintage flooring, siding boards, and many of the hand hewn beams. The owners were very happy to know the materials are being recycled and some of the wood was even put to use in their new addition.
historic barn frame 1840 post and beam _Green mountain timber frames

The original wall sheathing is 1/2 inch boards

We look forward to working with these materials in future restoration projects. The beams, flooring, and siding will help us maintain the authentic, historic look and we are grateful to the owners for sharing them with us.
Post and beam addition_Green Mountain Timber Frames

The hand hewn beam shown at the top of the wall is 30 feet long

They even wrote us a lovely note and while we risk sounding immodest, it made us so happy that we wanted to post it here. We are so glad the owners share our love of history and facilitated our collaboration to recycle the beams!
Thank you so much for the caring removal of 1840s ell on our home. We are still so amazed that the work was done so quickly!  Thank you for sharing information on the way our post and beam addition had been constructed.  Our shadow box of various pieces of the ell will have a place of honor in the new addition, too.”
When springs finally comes to Vermont this year, we will be dismantling another historic building on their property to salvage the materials.

Do you have a historic property that you want to preserve? 

We would love to help.

802.774.8972

Restoration of an 1806 Barn

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Here at Green Mountain Timber Frames, we are delighted to have a new member on our framing crew! Matt Peschl is not a new face or a new friend, as he worked with us for key projects over the past 12 years. But now, Matt has officially joined us on a full-time basis and we could not be happier about it!

matt-peschl_green-mountain-timber-frames

 

Reminiscing About a 2011 Barn Restoration

Luke and Matt worked together on a project in 2011 and we’d like to take this opportunity to share it with you. The repairs were done on a small barn on a beautiful property here in our hometown of Middletown Springs, Vermont. The homestead dates from before 1800 and we believe the barn that we worked on was built in 1806.

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We repaired the red barn, which sits nestled under the mountain among a collection of vintage barns and corn cribs

The barn had two main structural issues: rotten sills and a rotten upper beam called a top plate that supports the rafter bottoms. We decided to start from the ground up.

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The sills were tired from sitting directly on stone for 205 years

We began by using hydraulic jacks to strategically lift the barn up off of the stone foundation. This allowed us access to the sills where they needed work. In our restorations, we use vintage materials for replacement parts whenever possible.

The next photo shows Luke using a chain mortiser to begin cutting to splice in a new piece.

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The beginnings of a scarf joint

With the weight of the barn held up on jacks, we were able to cut joinery on a new sill piece and fit it together with the still sound original section of sill.

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Here we have used an English scarf joint to add in a new section of sill

One eve wall of the barn was close to grade and the sill was entirely rotten. For this wall, we chose to use Locust wood for the sill replacement.

Locust grows locally and is a remarkable species. As a kid growing up on a Vermont farm, I had the opportunity to work with locust for a long time- at times more cheerfully than others! My father, siblings and I cut many locust fence posts from the woods. We would drive the locust directly into the ground and, because of the nature of the wood, it would last many years even when underground.

In fact, I have stumbled across old, grayed locust fence posts deep in Vermont woods. The old fence posts tell the story of much of Vermont’s land being cleared of forest during the 1800s. Now, the forest land is expanding to take up a larger portion of the state. Locust posts, as well as stone walls, stand sentry in parts of our current woodland to tell the tale and transitions of our farming history.

locust-replacement-sill-antique-barn-green-mountain-timber-frames

We copied the joinery from the original sills before installing the new timber

Once we had the barn set back down on repaired sills and had rebuilt the stone foundation, we took a look at the second major issue. What we found was some serious rot caused by a leaky roof at some point in the past. The first roof had been cedar shakes, later replaced by slate.

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Folks, we have an issue!

In order to repair the top plate, we first set up a system to jack up and hold the rafters in order to free up space for our repair.

repairing-antique-barn-top-plate-green-mountain-timber-frames

The rafters are supported and we have cut out the rotten section of beam

We used an English scarf joint to make the top plate repair. When we need to replace a section in a barn, we use vintage materials from our inventory in order to get a matching color, tone and hue.

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The top plate is repaired and ready to support the roof for another 200 years

Next, we replaced the siding windows and trim on the barn.

rebfurbished-barn-green-mountain-timber-frames

It is a great joy to have Matt on the team again. He joins us with a great amount of experience, both in timber framing and in every phase of construction. Most importantly, we really enjoy his company!

Do you have a vintage barn of your own that needs repairs?
Give us a call at (802) 774-8972.

Want to read about another timber frame project? How about the time we built a timber frame gazebo!

Roofing Material: A Weighty Decision!

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I remember one time as a kid when a great-uncle told me about the historic New England turkey drives. As I listened open-mouthed, he told me that New England farmers of the 1800s used to join up in the fall to collectively bring all the turkeys they had raised down to Boston. It was before the days of the interstate and refrigerated trucks, and as he recounted, they would shepherd thousands of turkeys across the countryside over a number of days.

vermont-wild-turkeys

The turkeys would collectively roost on the ridges of country barns every night. “And that, my friend, is why so many Vermont barns have big sags in the ridge line – it was the weight of all those fat turkeys on their way to market!”

To this day I am not totally sure if he was pulling my leg completely about the “historic turkey drives,” but one thing is for sure: there are indeed many historic barns with saggy roofs. In our voyages around New England viewing barns, we very often find sway-backs. That is, buildings where the roof has sagged dramatically under the weight of slate.

The history of our slate industry

Green Mountain Timber Frames has its base of operation right on the edge of a slate valley and it is fascinating to think about the interplay of geography, geology and population movements as it relates to this industry. Slate first gained attention in our area around 1834. The first known barn to receive a slate roof in our area was in 1848. By the end of the 1800s, the slate industry in our valley was booming, bringing in groups of skilled quarry workers from Wales, Czechoslovakia, Poland and many other parts of the world where people had experience with slate.

Before this, our barns were roofed using hand-split cedar shakes.

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Hand split shakes – image courtesy of http://www.nps.gov

Builders would cut cedar logs into 30 to 36 inch lengths and then split them into shingles using a tool called a froe. In some places where there were not readily available streams for early water powered sawmills, builders would forego roof boards completely. Instead, they would heavily brace the rafter system to make it ridged, and then would install strips of wood called purlins spaced up to 36 inches apart. They would then apply long hand-split cedar shakes directly to the purlins.

From cedar to slate

Cedar is a natural, light, and wonderful roofing. Like the planking on an old wooden boat, it would have large gaps when dry. As soon as the first rain drops soaked in however, the cedar would swell and shed the water beautifully!  However, cedar roofs last only a few decades. As the cedar started to fatigue on our earliest barns, farmers began to replace it with slate. What could be better than a local product that will last as roofing for 200 years? What farmer really has the time to replace cedar every few decades?

There was just one little problem…cedar shakes weigh about 400 pounds per 100 square feet. Slate, on the other hand, weighs as much as 1,000 pounds on that same roof surface! On a typical 30 x 40 barn, this means that the new roof weighed as much as 9 or 10 tons. For a barn designed for a lightweight roof, trouble came a-visiting, especially when the heavy Vermont snows also piled high on top of the slate.

before-and-after-barn-transformation

How does geography fit into this?

Here at GMTF, we have recently viewed a number of barns in northern Vermont. These structures were far from the slate quarries and were thus more likely to receive roof makeovers with multiple generations of cedar, followed by lightweight metal roofs (once that industry came into full swing.) We find that, unlike with slate, many more of these northern barns survived with roof-lines in tact.

How do we restore these barns?

There are several building techniques that we use to rehab a barn that was built for cedar rather than our modern heavier insulated roofs.

We find that the old barns with ridge beams faired much better over the past couple of centuries.

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This 1790s frame received slate mid-life, yet look how straight the roofline remained because of the 5-sided ridge beam!

To further strengthen a ridge beam roof system, we sometimes add vertical posts going from heavy timbers to the ridge beam. This transfers the weight straight down and minimizes the outward thrusting forces that otherwise can push the eve walls out.

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In this historic barn, there are posts going up to the ridge beam to further strengthen the structure.

 

As builders became aware of the weight issue, they often added a “queen system.” This is a structural system that picks up the weight of the rafters at mid-span and transfers this weight down to the heavy girt timbers and posts. On many of our oldest barns, we use vintage timbers to create this type of a system.

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This  “queen system” helps to support the rafters.

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Queen systems come in many shapes. This one uses vertical posts rather than angled.

Another method we use to beef up the rafter system is to add collar ties to the rafters. These horizontal timbers create a triangle within each pair of rafters, which is one of the strongest geometrical shapes in nature.

collar-ties-on-north-hero-vermont-barn

We installed these old-new collar ties to help stiffed the roof on this North Hero, VT frame.

How can we repair slate fatigue in place? 

On a recent project, we were asked to help prepare the structure of an 1860s house for a new roof. The builders had sized their rafters for a light roof and then installed slate. The sag was tremendous. We did not want to disturb the original plaster of the ceilings beneath the rafter system. Our solution, after the slate was removed, included first adding collar ties in the attic.

new-collar-ties-to-strengthen-rafter-system-in-old-vermont-barn

New collar ties stiffen these old, undersized rafters.

Next, we screwed 2 x 4 rippings over the top of the existing rafters and snapped straight chalk lines.

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We used a string with chalk on it to snap a straight line

Here is how it looked after we used this technique on all the rafters:

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Making all these curved shims made us consider going into the wooden boat building trade!

Next, we put new plywood over the whole roof and it was ready for roofing!

new-plywood-roofing-on-vermont-frame_green-mountain-timber-frames

Ready, set, and on goes a new roof!

Restored slate roof by Green Mountain Timber Frames

The finished project has a much flatter and straighter roof.

Conclusion

It is so interesting, as we travel around New England looking at barns, to imagine the various economic, geographical and sociological forces that all played a role in barn designs! We are grateful to have learned from the craftsman of the past who figured out how to properly build roof structures to withstand the various forces that material and weather throw at them.


Want to live in your very own historic barn?
Let us know!

802.774.8972 or Luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com

  • To learn more about the fascinating history of slate, check out the fantastic Slate Valley Museum in Granville, NY.

The Amos Hodsdon House Needs a New Owner

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We at Green Mountain Timber Frames have a friend and fellow “restorationist” and we are very excited to be collaborating with him on a new project. It’s an incredible opportunity to preserve the “Amos Hodsdon House,” built in 1837.

1904 Hodsdon postcard without text cape house green mountain timber frames

Ben’s story

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Meet Ben Heywood, center

Meet Ben – An Expert in Restoration

Ben Heywood moved into the area a few years ago after a career of preservation and restoration work in the Cape Cod area. Since moving to Vermont, he has become a friend as well as a consultant on some of our projects. He has aided us in assessing the fine details of houses dating from the 1800s. He has a wealth of knowledge regarding trim, window and door styles and the dating of buildings. He has done incredible work restoring original entryways, windows, and cupboards. On a recent weekend visit, I asked Ben how he got interested in restoration.

“I was born in Gardner, Massachusetts, in 1951. There were dozens of abandoned 18th and early 19th century houses in a 40 or 50 mile radius. In the course of many Sunday family rides in the station wagon, my father would drop me at these so I could snoop around. It was arranged that I’d be picked up about a half hour later. All kinds of different architecture… it was great! It took no time at all for me to understand the difference between the handcrafted specimens and the numerous postwar boxes popping up everywhere. I also bought and devoured all the Eric Sloane books by age 16. All this sent me in the preservation direction.”

Ben’s First Home Restoration

Ben moved to Falmouth and purchased his first “vintage” house in 1978 for the price of $1! It was a circa 1815 three quarter cape with a center hall and three fireplaces. It had the original doors, wainscot, finish trim and floors. As Ben told me, “I assembled some buddies and had it down in three weeks. I’ll never forget having to buy a liability policy from Lloyd’s of London as I was young and not yet firmly established. Insurance for four weeks cost me 500 times what I had paid for the house! Most everybody thought I was nuts at the time- until they saw the place restored!”

In the decades that followed, Ben disassembled and restored around 20 period houses. He did restoration in place on another 20!

Bodfish house cape house green mountain timber frames

Ben completed the restoration of the “Bodfish” house in 1982, which overlooks Cape Cod bay.

In 2008, Ben decided to find one last gem of a house that he would restore for himself as he moved to Vermont and into retirement. Enter: the remarkable house built by Amos Hodsdon in 1837.

Hodsdon house vintage photograph cape house available green mountain timber frames

The Hodsdon house, built in 1837

Now, due to life changes and a desire to downsize his construction plans, Ben has decided not to use this house as his own. The beautiful historic Hodson House is available for sale!

And we at Green Mountain Timber Frames want to help our friend find a new family to make this house into their home.

About the Vintage House

After looking at many vintage buildings, Ben decided on a house in Carroll County, New Hampshire, named after Charles Carroll who died in 1832 as the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence. Carroll County was created in 1840 with Ossipee as its seat. Ben learned this history lesson after his search of Carroll County deeds came up empty. Eventually, he realized that the county lines had changed three years after the deed to the property changed hands from father to son, and so was filed in Strafford County!

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Ben found the gravestone of Captain Amos Hodsdon

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Here is the deed showing the transfer of property from father to son

When Ben discovered the old Hodson place, the house was incredibly unaltered and in good “frame health,” for its age. It had been abandoned for ten years and had been occupied by an elderly couple before that. The kitchen had a typical cast iron sink mounted in what was surely a period dry sink. There was a rusty old spigot and pipe that ran into a tank heated by the wood stove! The last residents of the house had still been carrying water into the house from a six foot diameter dug well with a flat stone cover. Best of all… the house had never had a bathroom!

Ben assembled a crew and began dismantling the frame.

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The roof boards come off

Hodsdon rafter system vintage house

Here is a 46 foot purlin in the rafter system!

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The exposed frame

The Frame Awaits a New Owner

The frame is down, carefully stored and awaiting a new home. It is available as a complete package, including the beautifully restored trim work, original flooring materials, interior trim and wainscoting panels, the windows, and the entry. Even the staircase is ready to go back in!

Above you can see the tired entryway, and then the doorway after Ben’s incredibly meticulous restoration work.

When the house came into Ben’s caretaking, the decorative fan work over the entrance had been removed and flat boards had been nailed up. Ben studied the “shadow lines,” which are marks and weathering patterns on the wood, in an attempt to figure out through detective work what the original had looked like. Then, in a fortuitous turn of events, a friend discovered this old photograph of the house. It confirmed Ben’s guess at what had graced the entrance originally, and wait till you see what he created!

Cape House Green Mountain Timber Frames

This photo is the best rendition of the entranceway in the background. Oh, and the people in the foreground look fantastic too!!

Restored fan over entry Hodsdon house green mountain timber frames

Here you can see the incredible recreation of the decorative fan work over the doorway- all based on an early 1900’s photo!

Expertly restored windows Hodsdon cape house green mountain timber frames

Ben has even restored all the original windows!

This house boasts roughly 3,700 square feet of vintage living space. The crew at Green Mountain Timber Frames will do a complete restoration of the timber frame itself, and we are looking for someone who has always wanted to live in a beautiful New England style home!

Interested in this frame?

Know someone who may be able to help us find a home for this historical treasure? Please pass the word around that this wonderful structure is available and help us find a new “forever” location for this gem!

Contact us!

(802) 774-8972 or Luke@GreenMountainTimberFrames.com

Glamping – The Timber Frame Glass House

 

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I’m always looking for a new and exciting timber frames to build, so when the opportunity to create a one-of-a-kind post and beam glass cabin came my way – I jumped!

Glamping a timber frame glass house

Why camp…when you can glamp?

GLAMPING:

noun. 1. a form of camping in which participants enjoy physical comforts associated with more luxurious types of holiday. Word Origin. C21: blend of glamorous + camping.

A client of mine recently asked us to help glamorize the tent platform in her wooded Vermont backyard. Using salvaged timbers that Luke and I had on hand, we turned a simple raised platform into a glamper’s dream. The tiny timber frame glass house we built makes for an unmatched camping experience – and will stand for decades to come.

We started the construction by building a frame using reclaimed white oak timber and some leftover hemlock beams. Below you can see the skeleton of the 12′ x 12′ shed.

 

The client had acquired several glass windows and doors. A real Vermonter, she gathered a group of friends to transport the glass panels all the way through the woods to the site of her new glass house.

hoisting beams for glass house construction

We used the two large panels of glass (measuring an impressive 6′ x 8′ each!)  as the sides of the house.
timber frame vermont glass house

Because the structure is largely glass, it presented a bit of a construction challenge. We needed to include enough “wind braces” to make sure that the structure can withstand the howling winds of a New England winter. You can see the cross beams and braces in the image below.

glass house by green mountain timber framesAs for the walls that are not made of glass, we covered them with traditional siding. The final structure is truly one-of-a-kind – made up of 70% glass – and allowing for a nearly unobstructed view of the surrounding woods.

Glamping in a timber frame glass house

My friend couldn’t wait for the siding to be applied so spent the first night in a tent in the cabin.  The black flies and skeeters are wicked bad just now.

Secretly, we’re hoping our client lets us camp out here as well! The temptation of a night of camping under the stars, without mosquitoes – seems almost too good to be true!

Want to see some other projects we’ve done at Green Mountain Timber Frames?
Check out our completed timber frame projects!

 

Spring Cleaning!

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As one of the fist steps in the timber frame barn home restoration process, we power wash all the individual elements of a frame. This includes all the beams, every brace and each board that we are able to save and re-use.

Since winter in Vermont usually means sub-freezing temperatures, the piles of “dirty laundry” tend to pile up, waiting their turn with the washing team. Well, spring is here, and the washers are running!

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Our newest team member, John, washing a thick vintage siding  board.

Think about cleaning your house and the way grime builds up. Now imagine the dirt that collects in the hidden places of a 200 plus year old house or barn! It can be… pretty amazing!

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This 26 foot long top plate has not seen the light of day, or a cleaning, since it was hoisted into place 210 years ago!

Washing beams and boards can be a tedious, wet, and cold task. Yet we also find it very satisfying and even exciting to watch the real patina and natural beauty come forth from underneath the dirt.

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Look at the difference! This American Chestnut timber has received one pass from the power washer on the lower section.

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What a contrast between the washed surface and the dirty one!

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The final product of the cleansing is an amazing color that can not be replicated in new materials.

We do not use any soap in the washing. The water alone is enough to bring out the color. Wood ages as a result of exposure to air and light. While boards exposed to excessive sunlight turn silver, protected wood surfaces take on a beautiful glow.

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It took more than 200 years for this Beech timber to take on its patina.

The Art of Power Washing Old Timber Frames

Washing barn timbers and boards is not just a matter of pointing and shooting the stream of water at the materials. If we let the powerful water get too close to the wood, or if it strikes the surface at the wrong angle, the result is “raised hair” on the surface. Too much power in the spray slightly shreds the grain of the wood, causing the wood fiber to separate slightly on the surface, which can damage the patina and lead to a rough surface. Power washing takes patience. We can’t do too much, yet we must get the surface clean. The distance and angle from sprayer to old board has to be “just right!”

When the timbers and boards are washed, there are still steps to be accomplished. The boards must be dried before they can be stacked or else they will mold. We have to get creative in spreading the boards out to dry! We flip the boards halfway through the drying process. Eventually, we are ready to collect them carefully into piles for storage under cover.

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Vintage boards drying after washing.

The timbers and boards shown in these photos are from the 24 x 26 cape style house that we disassembled this past winter.

Stay tuned as we move towards a full restoration of this wonderful little timber frame! We better get back to work- the pressure washers are calling!